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A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Scottish Trades Union Congress calls for a national energy company, and “Climate Skills Scotland”

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 19, 2021

Green Jobs in Scotland is a recent report commissioned by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), written by economists at Transition Economics. In a highly-readable format, it sets out how Scotland can maximise green job creation, along with fair work with effective worker voice. It takes a sectoral approach, examining the changes needed, the labour market implications and job creation opportunities of those changes, and makes recommendations specific to the sector, for each of 1. Energy 2. Buildings 3. Transport 4. Manufacturing/Heavy Industry 5. Waste 6. Agriculture And Land-Use. As an example, the chapter on Energy is extensive and detailed, and includes recommendations to invest £2.5 billion – £4.5 billion (to 2035) in ports and manufacturing to supply large scale offshore renewables and decommissioning, 2. to establish a Scottish National Energy Company to build 35GW of renewables by 2050, as well as run energy networks and coordinate upgrades; and 3. Encourage local content hiring, with a target to phase in 90% lifetime local content for the National Energy Company. (Note that an auction is currently underway for rights to North Sea offshore development, as described by the BBC here).

Overall, the report concludes that smart policies and large-scale public investment will be required, and recommends “the creation of a new public body – Climate Skills Scotland – to play a co-ordinating and pro-active role to work with existing providers ….. As many of the occupations in the energy, construction, and manufacturing industries are disproportionately male-dominated, Climate Skills Scotland and other public bodies should also work with training providers and employers to make sure climate jobs and training programmes follow recruitment best practice, and prioritise promotion and incentives to historically marginalised groups, including women, BAME people, and disabled people.”

What Might an Ecosocialist Society Look Like?

By David Klein - System Change not Climate Change, June 27, 2021

Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system?

Before describing possible features of a future ecosocialism, it is worthwhile to consider why such a system is even needed. Why can’t the problems that ecosocialism would solve also be remedied within the current global capitalist system? Part I of this essay addresses that question by summarizing recent scientific reports on the state of the climate and extent of the ecological crisis; reviewing available methods and technologies that could be used to address the climate and ecological crises; and briefly describing capitalism’s structural inability to provide solutions at the scale of the crises. Part II then takes up the subject of the title, ecosocialism, along with strategies to move in that direction. 

Part I: Context and Background

The threat to life on Earth posed by the climate and ecological crises can hardly be overstated. A 2019 Nature article warned that up to a million species of plants and animals are on the verge of extinction, and a United Nations study the same year identified global warming as a major driver of wildlife decline. Much of the devastation to date was catalogued in the 2020 WWF Living Planet report, which recorded a 68 percent decline in the population of vertebrates around the world, in just the past five decades. More succinctly, scientists report that Earth is experiencing a sixth mass extinction. (The previous mass extinction, 66 million years ago, ended the dinosaurs).

The scale of the environmental crisis is unprecedented in human history. At stake are human civilization and billions of lives. An article last year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences predicted that for every additional 1̊C rise beyond the 2019 global average, a billion people will be forced to abandon their locations or endure insufferable heat. The paper warns that under a scenario of increasing emissions, areas now home to a third of the world’s population could experience the same temperatures as the hottest parts of the Sahara within 50 years. 

Summing up the findings of some 150 scientific studies, a 2021 paper authored by 17 scientists warned that the “scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its life forms –- including humanity –- is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp even for well-informed experts.” Adding further urgency, 101 Nobel laureates released an open letter in April 2021 in which they wrote, “We are seized by the great moral issue of our time: the climate crisis and commensurate destruction of nature.” The laureates called for a worldwide fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty

Global heating is driven by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and yet emissions continue at high levels despite the chorus of promises by “climate leaders” in governments. In 2020 global emissions decreased by a meager 5.8 percent due to Covid-19 lockdowns, but they were already on the rebound by the end of the year. For the current year, 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts the second largest annual increase in history of greenhouse gas emissions, as global economies recover from the Covid-19 recession. In May 2021 a record-breaking monthly average concentration of 419 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 was measured in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, breaking the previous May 2020 record of 417 ppm. 

The drivers of ecocide, more generally, include not only climate change, but also habitat destruction, toxic dumping, plastic pollution in the oceans, radiation poisoning, and other customary byproducts of the global capitalist economy. All of this destruction continues unabated despite the flood of warnings from scientists, lobbying by environmental activists, and even warnings from institutions deeply rooted in the capitalist economy. 

Consider, for example, that in May 2021 the IEA released an unprecedented call to the world to rapidly reach zero emissions in its report, Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector. Widespread news coverage and expressions of optimism followed. Yet from February to the end of April 2021, the Biden administration approved nearly 1200 drilling permits on federal lands, along with more than 200 offshore permits, and defended in court the ConocoPhillips Willow project in Alaska, which is expected to emit 260 million metric tons of CO2 during the next 30 years, the equivalent of 66 coal-fired plants. And Biden is far from alone among world leaders in his support of fossil fuel expansions.

It’s time to nationalize Shell. Private oil companies are no longer fit for purpose

By Johanna Bozuwa and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò - The Guardian, June 7, 2021

It has been a bad month for big oil. A Dutch court just ruled that Shell must cut its carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. The court’s decision has rightly been celebrated: it is a much more stringent requirement than the ineffective regulations imposed to date. Meanwhile, shareholders are waging rebellions at various oil giants – ExxonMobil shareholders won two seats on the board to pressure the oil company towards a greener strategy, and shareholders at Chevron and ConocoPhillips passed nonbinding resolutions pressuring the companies to disclose their lobbying efforts and emissions amounts.

Private oil and gas companies are finally up against the wall. Shell has promised to appeal the Dutch court decision, but oil prices went negative last year and put companies on bankruptcy notice, and last week the International Energy Agency said to stop digging. Politicians have floated the idea of oil and gas magnates becoming “carbon management companies” as a way for those companies to have a “future in a low-carbon world” while retaining control over oil, gas, and profit in a planet increasingly aware of and hostile to their emissions-generating activity.

But as far as the Dutch court’s ruling or the new bout of shareholder activism goes, neither go far enough. Nor should Shell be turned into a “carbon management company”. Like all private oil companies, Shell should not exist.

Oil and gas companies are a political structure: they possess private, authoritarian dominion over the pace and volume of oil and gas production, and thus of important determinants of global emissions. These emissions and their consequences do not respect any sort of public/private distinction, nor borders, nor the rights to clean air or clean water. For decades, private oil companies have intentionally and recklessly obscured their role in the destruction of countless local environments as well as their role in the global climate crisis.

Private oil companies have propped up an ever-failing business on a complex system of national and international government subsidies, all of which function to privatize the benefits of oil and gas production while socializing its financial, environmental, and social costs – making the public pay in tax dollars, human rights abuses, and an unlivable climate. Now that these companies fear being left behind by a changing political context, their public relations strategy is to insist to a public increasingly aware of the dire need to stop carbon emissions that there is still a place for private oil companies in a “green” world.

There is a role for the workers, their skills and knowledge, and the equipment and infrastructure of oil and gas companies. But there is no longer a role for companies or profit-seeking as an organizing principle of this aspect of human society – not if we want to continue to have human society...

Read the rest here.

Beyond Coal: Why South Africa Should Reform and Rebuild Its Public Utility

By Dominic Brown - New Labor Forum, May 2021

Despite 2020’s record fall in carbon dioxide emissions—largely due to extensive and repeated “lockdowns” of cities, plus dramatic decreases in air travel and the use of motor vehicles[1]—the world is far from making the changes necessary to avert climate catastrophe. The fact that the shutdowns over periods of last year had a marginal effect in the fight against climate catastrophe at best illustrates the enormity of the task that lies ahead. According to a 2019 report from the World Meteorological Organization, “time is fast running out,”[2] while Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency (IEA), observes “The pandemic and its aftermath can suppress emissions, but low economic growth is not a low emissions strategy. Only an acceleration in structural changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy can break the emissions trend for good.”[3]

In addition to ravaging health systems, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated food and housing insecurity, deepened unemployment, and put a spotlight on existing inequalities. In South Africa, growing awareness of these problems has brought renewed hope in the possibility of a response to the pandemic crisis that could aim for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy. Like other countries, South Africa is in desperate need of an energy transition. The South African economy remains disproportionately energy intensive[4] (although it is becoming less so), per capita emissions remain high,[5] and the country is the fourteenth largest contributor to global carbon emissions.[6] This energy and emissions profile reflects the historical and continuing dominance of the country’s “minerals-energy complex” (“MEC”)[7] which is supported by cheap electricity generated mostly from low-quality coal, while higher quality coal is exported.

Beyond its detrimental ecological impacts, South Africa’s MEC is deeply intertwined with the legacy of cheap Black labor in the mines and the formation of racialized capitalism. This structure of South Africa’s economy underpins the country’s massive inequality, serious health impacts for many thousands of people in mining affected communities, and the country’s disproportionate contribution to global emissions. This is why the shift to renewable energy (RE) in South Africa must include measures to ensure a just transition that leaves no worker or community behind while working to reverse the legacy of mass unemployment and deep socioeconomic inequalities.

The Political Economy of South Africa’s Energy Crisis

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of apartheid. This commitment has produced a dramatic rise in grid connections, such that more than 80 percent of households were connected to the grid by 2015, up from only 30 percent in 1994. Harder to shift have been the persistent levels of poverty and inequality. South Africa’s “Gini coefficient”— a global measure of inequality—today places the country as the world’s second most unequal, after neighboring Lesotho. With current unemployment at over 40 percent, many households cannot afford electricity, even when they are connected to the grid. The introduction of a provision for free basic electricity in 2004 was a step in the right direction, but at just 50 kWh per month for poor households that is insufficient to meet even basic requirements.

Since coming to power in 1994, South Africa’s government has promised “electricity for all” as a critical component in undoing the gross disparities of Apartheid.

Making matters worse, South Africa’s stateowned power utility, Eskom—which generates over 90 percent of energy consumed in the country—is in deep crisis. Eskom’s crisis has multiple dimensions and various causes, both internal and external, including (1) the 1980s era commercialization of Eskom; (2) postapartheid commitments to provide electricity to the majority of the country previously excluded, under the full cost recovery (FCR) model where the excluded majority are unable to afford rising electricity prices; (3) underinvestment in the utility’s infrastructure, particularly in building new capacity to meet increased demand; (4) conversion of the utility in 2002 to a public corporation, forcing it to pay taxes as well as dividends for the first time since its establishment almost a century earlier; (5) Eskom’s rising debt, dominated by foreign currency borrowed against the weak rand (R); (6) expensive coal contracts with windfall profits, signed in the name of promoting Black ownership in the coal industry; and (7) dramatic increases in the price of low-quality coal, upon which Eskom depends to generate electricity.[8]

Ireland’s Energy System: The Historical Case for Hope in Climate Action

By Sinéad Mercier - New Labor Forum, May 17, 2021

For thirty years, governments have been promising climate action. They seem incapable of undertaking the necessary major shifts in their energy systems required by the 2015 Paris Agreement. They also seem incapable of delivering on climate targets in a manner that both “leaves no one behind” and “reaches the furthest behind first,” as required by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, also agreed in 2015. In Ireland, we fall continually to the bottom of the rankings in climate action, with the current Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Green Party coalition government failing to achieve a mere 16 percent target of renewable energy by 2020.[1]

There are lessons to be learned from the past. One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties—Fine Gael (then Cumann na nGaedheal) and Fianna Fáil—were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value. Irish state electricity generation started out in 1929 as being from almost 100 percent renewable sources.[2] The historical development of Ireland’s own energy system can be a model for a successful, fast paced national delivery program for a just transition and energy democracy. Ireland has previously made sweeping changes to the energy system, in a time of far greater difficulty, fewer resources, and almost intractable political fragility. The example is the establishment of the country’s—and the world’s—first state-owned national energy company, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), and its roll-out of universal access to affordable electricity through the Rural Electrification Scheme (RES).

Administering Dreams

The Ireland of the 1920s presented unlikely circumstances for ambitious national projects of any kind. After three years of guerrilla warfare against the British Crown forces, a form of independence had been achieved by 1922. The young Irish Free State government of freedom fighters and idealists was to set out on its own with little source of economic development beyond the sale of cattle to Britain and with much of its populace in extreme poverty. In 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, giving independence to twenty six counties and leaving the six counties in the north east of Ireland under British rule. The signing of the Treaty caused a split in the founding Sinn Féin party between those opposing and supporting the Treaty. This sparked a bitter civil war from June 1922 to May 1923 that has marked Irish politics for a century. The pro-Treaty element formed Cumann na nGaedheal, today the centerright (Christian Democrat) party Fine Gael. A group of republicans led by Éamon de Valera broke away from Sinn Féin in 1926 and formed Fianna Fáil,[3] in protest at the Oath of Allegiance to the British Crown, which all members of Dáil Éireann (the Irish Parliament) were obliged to take. The Cumann na nGaedheal party was in office from 1922 to 1932. Laissez-faire economic and commercial orthodoxies of the 1920s, inherited from the British administration, and a reinstated civil service were largely the global order of the day.

One hundred years ago, the two civil war parties . . . were united in their commitment to a state-owned energy system with an objective of universal access, public good, and public value.

However, the young state took on a number of major interventions in the economy. Most notable were the Land Commission and the creation of Ireland’s state energy company, the ESB, and its primary power source, the Ardnacrusha Hydroelectric Power Station on the Shannon River—also known as the “Shannon Scheme.”[4] To deliver Ardnacrusha’s energy to the public, in 1927 the government established its first Irish state company, the ESB, through the Electricity (Supply) Act, 1927. This was to be the first national electricity service in the world, with full responsibility for the generation, transmission, distribution, and marketing o electricity.[5] From its beginnings, the aim of the ESB was not-for-profit, universal, and affordable access to electricity; “strong on technical expertise, with set targets and with the muscle, dynamism and freedom to achieve these targets.”[6] Attempts had been made to attract foreign investors, particularly from the United States, but “most of the big corporations objected to the government’s stipulation that unprofitable rural lines might have to be built without any guaranteed government subsidy.”[7] The Irish electricity industry had been in existence for forty years, yet the vast majority of the population had been left in darkness and drudgery. As a result of these failings, the fledgling Department of Industry and Commerce concluded that confining the ESB to mere distribution of the energy from the Shannon Scheme was likely to place the whole enterprise in “immediate jeopardy.”[8] The government therefore nationalized what was a piecemeal mess of three hundred expensive, “badly run,” inefficient private and local authority undertakings.[9]

Public energy companies necessary for a fair transition

By Dries Goedertier - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, April 19, 2021

The debacle with the reversing electricity meter [also called “net-metering” in many contexts — a billing mechanism that credits solar capacity owners for electricity they feed into the grid] shows the limits of Flemish energy policy, which places the responsibility for the much-needed energy transition in the hands of the individual as consumer, investor and entrepreneur. For a socially just and democratic energy transition, the necessary efforts of energy cooperatives will not be sufficient. Only the state can regain control of the energy sector on behalf of, and for the benefit of, society as a whole.

Flemish energy policy has recently suffered from a severe heat stroke. The Constitutional Court has put an end to the reversing electricity meter. The decision dealt a heavy blow to those families who, after the (apparently worthless) guarantees of a bunch of liberal energy ministers about the legality of this particular support scheme, decided to install solar panels on their roofs before the deadline of January 1, 2021. Many of them feel cheated and that is certainly understandable. However, a critical inquiry should not stop there. The whole debacle shows the limits of an energy policy that places the responsibility for the much-needed energy transition in the hands of the individual as a consumer, investor and entrepreneur. 

“The sun has become a neoliberal investment product,” stated Dirk Holemans (Oikos). Holemans, together with Dirk Vansintjan (Ecopower & REScoop.EU), is arguing for a shift to a collective model in which citizens pool their resources and capacities in energy cooperatives. There is indeed a lot to be said for that. After all, energy cooperatives have a lot to offer in terms of democratic, social and ecological benefits. 

If we really want to democratize the energy sector in function of social and environmental objectives, then public energy companies will have to play a major part

In my opinion, however, the admirable self-organization of thousands of citizens will not be enough to break the dominance of the current for-profit energy model. The market power of the established players is simply too great for that. Only the state has the capacities, resources and potentially democratic legitimacy to regain control of the energy sector on behalf of and for the benefit of society as a whole. 

If we really want to democratize the energy sector in the service of social and ecological objectives, then public energy companies will have to play a major part. This does not have to be at the expense of energy cooperatives, as is sometimes incorrectly claimed. I am convinced that energy cooperatives in a public-driven model of energy democracy will actually have more opportunities to unleash their potential. But in order for that to happen, we must dare to question the liberalization of the energy sector. 

For an ecosocialist transition that breaks from capitalism: Arguments and proposals

By Claude Calame - Global Ecosocialist Network, April 13, 2021

The 149 proposals issued by the French Citizens’ Convention on Climate last June, with the goal of achieving at least a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990, manifestly belong to a thoroughly reformist approach. Nevertheless, Emmanuel Macron, only days after environmentalist candidates made gains in municipal elections, rejected three of those proposals:

  • the reduction of the motorway speed limit to 110 km/h (what else could one expect from the Finance Minister under Hollande who wanted to create competition between buses and trains?);
  • a 4% tax on dividends (the rejection of this proposal is consistent with the President’s abolition of the wealth tax among his first acts after being elected, in line with the demands of Medef);
  • the inclusion of ecology in the preamble to the Constitution (this proposal is clearly contrary to the principles of the President’s neoliberal worldview, which sees ‘nature’ itself only as something to be turned into a commodity to be submitted to the market and exploited for profit).

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy: Global Forum on Mexico

By staff - Trade Unions For Energy Democracy, March 25, 2021

Speakers:

  • Heberto Barrios Castillo, Undersecretary, Mexican Energy Ministry- SENER
  • Martín Esparza, General Secretary, Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas- SME
  • Silvia Ramos Luna, Secretary General, Unión Nacional de Técnicos y Profesionistas Petroleros - UNTyPP
  • Fernando Lopes, trade union consultant in Brazil and former Assistant Secretary General of IndustriALL
  • Ozzi Warwick, Chief Education and Research Officer, Oilfields Workers' Trade Union (OWTU), Trinidad and Tobago

Political and Economic Power in a Period of Social Transformation

By Tom Wetzel - Ideas and Action, March 21, 2021

How does the working class liberate itself from being a subordinate and exploited class? This is where we need thinking about the overall strategy and our vision about new structures to replace the capitalist regime.

The working class has to build its capacity to actually do this. This capacity is built through the more or less protracted process of class formation. This is the process through which the working class overcomes fatalism and internal divisions (as on lines of race or gender), and builds the confidence, organizational capacity and the aspiration for social change. This is the process through which the working class “forms” itself into a force that can effectively challenge the dominating classes for control of society. This is likely to require a kind of social movement alliance that brings together the grassroots worker organizations (such as unions) and social movement organizations that have emerged around the various other areas of struggle in a particular period — tenant unions, environmental justice organizations, and groups that emerge around racial and gender fault lines. And thus the agenda for change is going to reflect the various priorities of these movements.

But what steps should this movement aim at in the transition to socialism? In fact it’s going to be essential for a consensus to emerge already within such a mass movement about the basic structural changes that we need to initiate.

Syndicalists have always argued that a crucial initial task in the transition to a self-managed socialism is direct worker takeover of the workplaces — creating new democratic organizations through which workers can exercise direct power over the labor process. An impressive feature of the Spanish worker revolution in 1936–37 was the widespread expropriation of industries and collectivization of land in rural areas. Although the political events of that moment were not entirely predictable, the movement for worker control was not simply “spontaneous.” The militants of the unions in Spain had discussed for decades the need for workers to take over the industries and re-organize them under worker self-management. This was part of their revolutionary preparation.

Our program for building socialism needs to address the major structural features of the capitalist regime that we want to replace — structural features that are at the root of the oppressive work regime, vast inequality, and ecological destruction inherent to capitalism. The system of class oppression is rooted in two institutional structures of class power which the movement must break. First, we need to get rid of the private ownership of the non-human means of production, which allows for vast extraction of profit to build the wealth of a tiny, super-rich elite who dominate society.

But private ownership is not the only basis of oppressor class power. And here we need to learn from mistakes of the 20th century socialist movement. The 20th century saw major growth for a newly emergent dominating class — the bureaucratic control class, as I call it. The power of this class is based on their monopolization over the decision-making authority (and some related areas of expertise) in the corporations and state, via top-down bureaucratic hierarchies. The bureaucratic control class includes the managers who control workers day-to-day but also high-end professionals who work with the managerial regime such as corporate lawyers, and the people who run the state, such as professional politicians, prosecutors, judges, military brass. A worker’s liberation movement must have a program for eliminating the power of this class over the working class.

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